In Review: Star Trek: Picard – Season Three

Reviewed by Tim Robins

SPOILER ALERT (Section 31 advisory)

Star Trek Picard Season Three promotional art ©️ CBS

I can’t say that I was looking forward to the new season of Star Trek: Picard, because, for me, the previous seasons were like some kind of fever dream of what Star Trek: The Next Generation used to be. In short, an often bewildering mess, that seemed to stick two fingers in the face of Trek fandom.

While the series title delivers exactly what it says, I had mixed feelings about Patrick Stewart being the focus of the show in seasons one and two. As the production on season three began to shape up, Stewart told Yahoo News back in February that he had specific thoughts on what he wanted Picard to do this time around – and what he didn’t want the character to do.

“What I said to Terry in our initial conversations [about season three] were: ‘Okay, if I do this, then this is what I don’t want to do,” Stewart told Phil Pirrello. “And I had a list: I didn’t want to wear a traditional uniform, or continuously say ‘engage’ or ‘make it so’ for the sake of it.”

This has echoes with his memories of being made director on “A Fistful of Datas” (in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 7), the actor recalling “I was aware of a certain reticence and, perhaps, envy of those around me”.

So, earlier seasons of Star Trek: Picard seemed, to me, like another case of ‘Et Tu Brute’ for the rest of the cast, while making Stewart seem like a bit of a Locutus Prima Donna.

Star Trek Picard Season Three. Image ©️ CBS
Image ©️ CBS

In contrast, season three has brought back as many members of the original ST:TNG’s cast as possible and developed their characters in interesting ways. The year is 2401 and the inclusive future has finally admitted that even elders can have space adventures. In fact, many of the fans of Classic Trek will be the same age as the cast – no bad thing. And neither, after decades of fetishising youth, is the recognition that a previous generation has something to offer. Stewart’s octogenarian Picard is reflected in the present incumbent of America’s presidency. Both express soft-spoken authority through time-worn larynxes.

The overarching plot of season three is a JJ Abrams style “mystery box”. Abrams once took the opportunity of a Ted Talk to ask, “what are stories but mystery boxes? “ – hold my collected works of Shakespeare and the Best of Judge Dredd, Mr Abrams… Adventures don’t need to be mystery boxes, in fact they rarely are, and people even less so. Besides, mysterious characters aren’t particularly interesting, and I say this as a Doctor Who fan. And solving multiple mysteries can be exhausting.

Imagine you have just thrown your entire collection of Russian Dolls down the stairs and have to spend weeks working out which fits inside the others. It is fun, sort of, but only for a while. In contrast, one of the appeals of much drama, such as soap opera, is that characters are knowable, understandable and, dare I say it, “relatable.” So it is not surprising that Picard, season three, has proved so popular precisely because it brings together characters we know and love, however ‘changed’ by the passage of time.

Star Trek Picard Season Three . Image ©️ CBS
Image © CBS

That said, the characters are tripping over mystery boxes. This time out, Beverly Crusher, with her mystery box son Jack, sends a mystery box message to Picard, causing the former Enterprise captain to leave his vineyard and team up with Rykerand Seven of Nine, all of whom have mystery boxes of their own. At the same time, relatively, Starfleet intelligence officer Raffi Musikerfinds herself enmeshed in a web of mystery boxes, including her mystery box handler and a mystery box act of terrorism that seems to be a diversion from a wider conspiracy to end Starfleet, Earth and all human life.

In Picard season three, the gang’s all here: Geordi La Forge, Worf, William Riker, Beverly Crusher, Deanna Troi and Data-Lore. And gosh, it’s good to see them back. The kicker is that our beloved cast of returning characters are rebels, a resistance force against a Federation infiltrated by Changelings and Borg. Infiltration stories involving Starfleet are always good value.

Star Trek Picard Season Three . Image ©️ CBS
Image © CBS

We get to see thoughtful developments of the original ST:TNG cast and a rediscovery of the principle that the whole is better than the parts. The story arcs of familiar characters are, forgive me, “engaging”. The resolution of Data’s conflict with his ‘brother’ Lore is ingenious and touching. We are also asked to believe ‘Worf’ has become something of a pacifist and has spent time getting in touch with calmness and Camomile Tea. The Klingon tells us that there were scars and shame on both sides of The Dominion War(!?).

Star Trek Picard Season Three . Image ©️ CBS
Image © CBS

There are guest appearances of cast and characters from other Star Trek series, including Jeri Ryan as Seven, Michelle Forbes as Ro Laren and Tim Russ as Tuvok. These characters make a substantial contribution to the plot. Tuvok, the Federation’s infiltrator into the Maquis, in Star Trek: Voyager, gets to play an infiltrator of a different kind. From the earlier Picard series, Michelle Hurd returns as Raffi, now serving, and resisting, the orders of an unseen handler.

The new characters fit right in. I worried that Crusher’s son, Jack, would sideline the regulars as Deckard and Illa did in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, or be a male equivalent of a Mary Sue. But Ed Speeler’s performance as a man tormented by mysterious visions of a red door, and his place in the Borg’s scheme of things is compelling. The whole “red door” thing seems a cheeky nod to JJ Abrams’ aesthetic, which often uses red to highlight a story element, as in the “red matter ” in his 2009 Star Trek movie.

Star Trek Picard Season Three . Image ©️ CBS
Image ©️ CBS

Of the new Starfleet Officers, Commander Shaw (Todd Stashwick) has already become a fan favourite, playing a more subtle version of one of those up-tight, jobs worths that the Enterprise crew often butt up against. And, after all, it is Shaw’s ship the TNG gang is hijacking. It’s fun to see someone not taken in by the usual “Trust us, we’re the good-guys here”. And Shaw has good reason not to trust Picard, having fought against him at Wolf 359 when Picard was assimilated by The Borg.

Special mention needs to go to the flamboyantly evil Vadic, Captain of the ‘Shrike’, played with great gusto by Amanda Plummer. Comparisons have inevitably been drawn between Vadicand Khan. The cat and mouse fight between The Shrike and the Titan-A certainly recall Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan , but at least Khan didn’t have the ability to cut off his hand and use it to communicate with a sinewy blob. Yuck.

Star Trek Picard Season Three. Image ©️ CBS
Image ©️CBS

Star Trek: Picard, season three could easily have gone very wrong. It still uses the playbook of taking key important characters and plot lines from past Trek and squashing them into a single season. There is still a wearying excitement with what are actually very familiar tropes from science fiction. I still laugh out loud at season one’s climax which featured a gigantic, tentacled AI octopus thrashing its way through a space-time warp.

I realise AI has gathered a new significance at the moment, but being told twice that Daystrom Station is protected by a highly sophisticated AI system just made me roll my eyes. I mean Kirk’s Enterprise had a powerful “AI” – its on-board computer. If that was just a glorified database, then the crew encountered powerful AI’s all the time: some even thought of themselves as gods! My unease with super tech flagging also comes from one of Roddenberry’s axioms for the Trek universe – that the Enterprise crew would treat the technology around them as unremarkable and everyday much as we treat phones.

A lot of Picard, season three’s success is credited to show runner Terry Matalas. But I feel that season three demonstrates the sheer power of, and love for, ST:TNG. If you have any fondness for the old series, there are moments that will cause you to shed a tear – whether it is the refrain of the series’s theme music, scenes set Enterprise Bridge or one of the many farewell scenes at the season’s end. As contemptible as it may sound, sometimes familiarity breeds contentment.

Tim Robins

Star Trek Explorer #7 - Newsstand Cover

Star Trek: Picard is screening now on Paramount+, available internationally through Amazon

• The latest issue of Star Trek Explorer, #7, includes the first part of a two-part interview with Jonathan Frakes, and model designer Bill Krause.

It’s available from newsagents and specialist stores, including Forbidden Planet (Affiliate Link)

Subscribers also get a digital supplement with two extra short stories, in addition to the two featured in the print magazine. More details here on the Titan web site

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